Tackling Re-offending Among Women

18th March 2016

Since October last year, the Integrated Offender Management (IOM) Cymru Women's Pathfinder 'Diversion Scheme' has been piloted at the custody suite in Newport Central Police station. The 'Diversion Scheme' is designed to divert lower risk women away from the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and into voluntary community interventions and support.

This week, partners including the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Gwent Police, Newport Women's Aid and other local partners who provide specialist women's centred services gathered to officially launch the scheme at Malpas Court, Newport.

Following a successful pilot project which began in Cardiff in 2014, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnston, in collaboration with the three other Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in Wales, secured nearly £235,000 from the Home Office to develop four additional pilot sites throughout Wales - one in each Police Force area. The custody suite at Newport Central Police Station was selected for Gwent.

Under the scheme, women with complex needs, often victims themselves, receive the support they need to help them address any underlying issues, avoid future contact with the Police and build positive relationships with their families and wider communities.

Since October last year, all women arrested and brought into the Newport Central Custody Suite have been in scope for consideration for the scheme and have undergone a rapid eligibility assessment by Diversion Scheme staff located within the custody suite. To date, 33 women have been diverted to the scheme', 21 of which are/have been victims of domestic violence and 27 of which have some form of mental health problems or issues which they need support with to address. 16 of the women diverted also have drug and alcohol issues.

Following an assessment, Diversion Scheme staff propose the most appropriate intervention. This may include housing support, debt advice, access to mental health services, domestic abuse support and substance misuse interventions. The Custody Sergeant has the final authority to agree to the Diversion Scheme at their disposal.

One woman in Gwent was referred to the scheme after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly and spending a night in the cells. After being interviewed the next day by the police, it was decided that she met the criteria for the scheme. When completing the assessment she said that she felt embarrassed about the incident and had never done anything of that nature before. She also disclosed that she felt lonely, isolated, had regular suicidal thoughts and suffered from anxiety. It was then revealed that she had been waiting for an appointment to deal with historical sexual abuse issues. Thanks to the scheme, she is now receiving counselling to deal with those issues. The individual also revealed that she was in financial debt and is now receiving specialist support to build a debt management plan and is receiving debt advice.

Highlighting the importance of the project, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnston, said: "This scheme ensures that women who come into contact with the criminal justice system have the co-ordinated support they need to help them stay on the straight and narrow. Collaborative partnerships such as this one are amongst the reasons why inspectors have found that Gwent Police has improved the way it protects vulnerable people from harm and that victims are now more readily identified and receive better support. Female offenders often have multiple problems which contribute to their offending which cannot be addressed by a single agency and that's why this scheme is so important."

Gwent Police Inspector, Micah Hassell, who has responsibility for Custody and Case Preparation at the Force, said: "This scheme has had an overwhelming impact. Staff working within custody now have a clear option to support and empower women who are faced with complex lifestyle issues. We know that women who enter custody have complex needs which weren't always recognised or addressed prior to the introduction of this scheme. Many vulnerable women were just being released back into their communities without the essential support they needed. On numerous occasions they returned back into police care for crimes linked to their vulnerabilities, because they were not supported enough to allow them to make the right choices.

The Women's Pathfinder team provide an essential support service which meets the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities at the first point of contact within custody units. What we do here has a lasting impact upon the lives of women who enter into the criminal justice system. The team have the ability to break the cycle of vulnerability so women can build confidence, make the right choices and take positive steps towards a better life."